DANGEROUS delays before emergency patients are admitted to a North-East hospital will end soon, a health minister vowed today (Wednesday, February 13).

Dan Poulter – who condemned the problems at James Cook University Hospital, Middlesbrough as “completely unacceptable” – insisted they were now being tackled.

Answering a Commons debate, Dr Poulter revealed that:

* Interviews would take place this month to recruit extra specialist nurses at Guisborough and East Cleveland hospitals – with 60 applicants in the running.

* This would allow both hospitals to extend opening hours into the evening, to prevent cases being sent, unnecessarily, to James Cook A&E.

* James Cook was opening a ‘winter ward’ with extra beds – to relieve pressure on A&E.

* The hospital was also exploring opening a specialist paediatric A&E department.

Dr Poulter – who, six times, described delays at James Cook as “unacceptable” – said the key was a “joined-up approach” with care in the community.

He told MPs: “The opening hours of the urgent care centres at Guisborough and East Cleveland hospitals are now 9am to 5pm during the week and 8am to 8pm at weekends.

“That has made it difficult for local people to access local health care service and created pressure on A&E departments.

“I am pleased to report that job interviews will be held on February 25 for specialist nurse and other posts at those hospitals, with a view to extending the opening hours again in the future.”

The debate was led by Tom Blenkinsop, Labour MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, following growing alarm over huge A&E waits across the region. 

Last month, the North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) staged a crisis summit, which blamed a lack of front-line staff, hospital bed shortages and a sharp increase in emergency admissions.

NEAS ambulances were delayed transferring their patients for more than two hours on 87 occasions, during December - and by one to two hours on 626 occasions.

Mr Blenkinsop highlighted the case of 84-year-old Eileen Anderson, of Marton, Middlesbrough, a Parkinson’s Disease sufferer, who waited 11 hours before being admitted to James Cook.

He told Dr Poulter: “Mrs Anderson is a constituent of mine and, although that may be an extreme example of the delays that are occurring, unfortunately, it is not an isolated incident.

“Paramedics say that delays prevent them from responding to calls, and fear that such delays could lead to a tragedy.

“Somebody is going to die somewhere down the line and it could be the most vulnerable - children. Families of sick people arrive at hospitals and expect to find them in a bed, but they are still outside in an ambulance.”

Andy McDonald, the Middlesbrough MP, said: “Some weeks ago my own mother lay on a hospital trolley for five hours at James Cook hospital, waiting for admission to a ward.”